November 27, 2003

Meeting Cornell's Trustees

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What organization can boast the lifetime membership of Ezra Cornell? Who can you blame for tuition increases? Who were privileged enough to adorn the red regalia during the inauguration of President Jeffrey S. Lehman ’77? If you answered Cornell’s Board of Trustees to any of these questions, you would be correct.

Ezra Cornell ’70, the great-great-great-grandson of Cornell’s founder, is, indeed, a trustee, as the Board’s bylaws mandate. According to the bylaws, the eldest lineal descendent of founder Ezra Cornell shall hold a seat on the University’s Board of Trustees for the duration of that person’s life. Cornell inherited his seat at age eleven and assumed it a decade later at the age of nineteen, when he was enrolled as a student at the university.

As for your tuition and the red robes: these also fall ultimately on Cornell’s trustees.

At four meetings a year — three times in Ithaca and once in New York City — the trustees convene to discuss the state of the University. According to the university charter, the board is comprised of four ex-officio trustees — the current New York state governor, the temporary president of the senate, the speaker of the assembly and the president of the University — in addition to one trustee-for-life filled by Cornell. One trustee seat is appointed by the governor, and fifty-six board trustees — including representatives from the fields of agriculture, business and labor in New York state, university alumni, faculty from Ithaca and Geneva, the student body and the university’s non-academic staff — comprise the remainder of the Board.

Each student elected trustee serves a two-year term, with Funa Maduka ’04 and Jackie Koppell ’05 currently represent the student body.

“The first meeting is intimidating,” Koppell said, when asked about the pressures of being one of only two undergraduates on the Board. “However, the members of Cornell’s Board of Trustees are so welcoming and friendly that it is easy to feel comfortable quickly.”

According to Koppell, Cornell’s Board of Trustees is unique in that it affords student representatives voting privileges.

“Very few boards at other universities have students with voting capability,” she explained. “Cornell gives the students the opportunity to have their voices heard.”

Each trustee serves on various committees that subdivide the Board by its various administrative responsibilities. These committees include an executive committee, academic affairs and campus life, investment, audit, finance, membership, land grant and statutory college affairs, buildings and properties, alumni affairs and development and trustee community communications.

In recent years, responsibilities of the Board have ranged from creating the search committee that hand-selected President Jeffrey S. Lehman ’77 to approving the classic text, Antigone, for the freshman reading project to giving the West Campus Residential Initiative a big thumbs.

The Board convenes again next month. Both Koppell and Maduka invite students to contact them with university and administrative questions or concerns that they can then relay to the Board.

Archived article by Ellen Miller